NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Tennessee prepares to electrocute yet another death row inmate, a last-minute legal battle has raised questions surrounding the possible bias of a juror who helped hand down the original death sentence decades ago.
Attorneys for Lee Hall say they have found a woman — simply known as “Juror A” — who now admits she failed to disclose during Hall’s jury selection process nearly 26 years ago that she had been repeatedly raped and abused by her former husband.
This omission, the attorneys argue, deprived the 53-year-old Hall of a fair and impartial jury — a right protected in both the Tennessee and U.S. constitutions. At stake is a possible reversal of Hall’s conviction and death sentence.
“Juror A concedes that she was actually biased against Mr. Hall at the time of the trial and in fact hated him because he reminded her of her abusive husband. Juror A’s affirmative misrepresentations rendered Mr. Hall’s capital murder trial fundamentally unfair,” Hall’s most recent post-conviction petition states.
In response, the state’s attorneys have opposed Hall’s petition to reopen the case and have asked the court to dismiss the request.
“The matters litigated at the petitioner’s trial were, of course, his actions at the time of the murder. Neither Juror A’s claimed domestic abuse and bias, nor evidence of whether she disclosed those, had any relation to those litigated matters…for this reason alone, the petitioner’s petition should be summarily dismissed,” wrote Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.
Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., has been on death row ever since being convicted for the 1991 killing of his estranged girlfriend Traci Crozier. Hall set Crozier’s car on fire while she was still inside by filling a container with gasoline, stuffing a paper towel over the top, lighting it on fire and then throwing it into the car.
The container exploded and Crozier received burns to more than 90% of her body. She died the next day in the hospital.
According to the court documents, Juror A’s name is sealed because the woman’s family is unaware of the years of physical and emotional abuse she experienced with her first husband and her oldest son is unaware that he is a result of a violent rape.
While the woman is now speaking out about her bias against Hall after undergoing several years of therapy, she acknowledges that she failed to disclose her experience with domestic violence and rape despite being given several options during the jury screening process.
She didn’t begin talking about the abuse until 2007 when she began seeing a therapist and didn’t tell Hall’s attorneys about her past until this year.
“All these memories flooded back to me during the trial. I could see myself in Traci (Crozier)’s shoes, given what happened to me,” the juror later said in an Oct. 10 affidavit. “I hated Lee for what he did to that girl.”
The new revelation involving Juror A comes when the state is prepared to execute Hall on Dec. 5 via the electric chair — an execution method increasingly being selected by Tennessee inmates over lethal injection.
In Tennessee, the state’s primary execution method is lethal injection but inmates can choose electrocution if they were convicted of crimes before January 1999.
Nationally, electrocution is a rarely-used option — partially due to it being legal in only six states. However, it’s a method that has been requested by three out of the five past death row inmates since Tennessee started resuming executions in August 2018.
Yet it’s unclear if the information about Juror A will delay the execution. A judge has scheduled a hearing to listen to both sides Thursday in Chattanooga, roughly two hours southeast of Nashville, after initially tossing out two other petition requests submitted by Hall’s attorneys.
“If procedurally proper, this Court would be inclined to conclude that petition states a colorable claim — one which still must be proven by petitioner before he would be entitled to relief — and consider the petition on its merits,” wrote Criminal Court Judge Don Poole earlier this month.
Poole added that Hall has already fully litigated a separate post-conviction petition and agreed that the second petition did not meet the criteria for reopening the case.
But Poole noted the Tennessee Supreme Court has at times allowed certain cases to be heard on “due process grounds” even when they didn’t strictly meet the state’s deadlines.
Nevertheless, Poole said he was unaware of any statute, court rule, or appellate opinion that addressed whether those due process concerns would allow a trial court to consider a second post-conviction petition on “its merits despite the statutory limit of one post-conviction petition.”
Bias in jury selection recently halted a scheduled execution of a Tennessee death row inmate earlier this year.
In September, a separate judge approved an agreement that converted the death sentence of Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman (ah-BOO’-ah-LEE’) (AHB’-dur-RAK’-mahn) to life in prison due to concerns that racism tainted his jury selection pool.
The agreement came after Abdur’Rahman, who is black, petitioned to reopen his case, presenting evidence that prosecutors at his trial treated black potential jurors differently from white potential jurors.
Tennessee’s attorney general is appealing the agreement.